Pauline Marois is on a damage-control tour. And the damage is self-inflicted. She brought it on by saying she wants Quebecers to be bilingual and have history taught in English in French schools.
Reactions were swift. The nastiest came from author Victor Lévy-Beaulieu who called her a "traitor." But his unfounded insults aside, he made one good point: "History has shown that when de-facto bilingualism grows in a minority society, the language of the majority sooner or later becomes the language of most." Since Quebec is a province, the language of the national majority is English.
Worried about the fallout from Parti Québécois members a month before their national council meeting, Marois fired back. But in doing so, she made two more errors in her analysis of the language situation in Quebec.
First, in referring to the English immersion classes taught in the Lac St. Jean region, she asked naïvely: "Has Lac St. Jean become bilingual?" Well, since it's almost 100-per-cent francophone and everything gets done in French, I guess not!
Marois doesn't seem to understand that the linguistic realities of Montreal and the regions are different. In Montreal, French is in open competition with English among allophones who make a language shift from their mother tongue. Lac St. Jean is another world. Obvious? You'd have thought so.
Her second error popped up in an interview on Radio-Canada. She said her idea of teaching general courses in English in French primary schools was based on "studies." Fine. She also said that before children move to English immersion, "it's important first to have a good knowledge of one's mother tongue." Very true.
And that's where Marois doesn't even follow her own reasoning. French is indeed the mother tongue of francophones, but not of allophones. For allophone children, French is already a second language. Channelling them to French schools was to help them master French first and foremost. Putting them in English immersion at an early age, while they're still developing their French, risks reinforcing the attraction of English instead.
More than 50 per cent of young francophones are bilingual. That's the highest rate by far of bilingualism of any language group in a provincial or national majority. Nearly half of allophone students who attended French high school choose an English CEGEP or university.
And they do so not because they want to learn English, but because they already know it and refuse to pursue their higher education in French. Chances are that giving English immersion as early as the primary level would increase that trend.
So, with knowledge of English already prevalent among francophones and allophones - to the point of still competing with French as the language of integration - why does Marois keep focusing on that issue instead of pushing for a better mastering of French and of other languages that are increasingly in demand, such as Mandarin or Spanish?
Radio-Canada's Téléjournal had an interesting piece on the PQ's so-called belles-mères or mothers-in-law. These are former PQ leaders who love to contradict the leader du jour in public. But isn't the expression "belles-mères" uncalled for? Since not one of these is a woman, the term "beaux-pères" would be much more appropriate. Unless we still revel in tired, sexist mother-in-law jokes ...
On a more analytical note, the one thing that strikes me most about these beaux-pères is that their usual object of dissatisfaction has shifted.
While the infighting used to be ideological and mostly pertained to sovereignty - the leader being criticized for either being too soft or too hard-line - disagreements have gradually moved on to other topics.
Be it Lucien Bouchard's "lucids" or Bernard Landry's attacks on André Boisclair and now the education reform launched by Marois, the S-word doesn't elicit the slightest debate from predecessors anymore.
You'd almost think that the beaux-pères have concluded that the issue isn't present enough in the current PQ even to warrant a good fight.
Marois's comments on language are out to lunch
PQ leader doesn't seem to realize that the island of Montreal is a special case